Tuesday 12 February 2019

Seaweed Salad

Last night after dinner I met a friend in Koreatown North, formerly known as my childhood neighbourhood. Sort of. Neighbourhoods were rather smaller and more localised when I was a kid. What is now called Koreatown North was the northernmost edge of anywhere I might go, but in fact I did go to a school there once a week for Gifted Program.

Gifted Program seems, in hindsight, to have been an experimental education laboratory, and it was bad for my character, to say nothing of my social standing in my primary class. I was a special snowflake a generation before we talked of special snowflakes, and my primary classmates didn't like special snowflakes, as you can imagine.

I wrongly told my friend last night that the school where I went to GP was gone; I just looked it up and it is still there, albeit hidden from Yonge Street by a massive condominium complex. The hobby shop where I bought dollhouse furniture with my weekly allowance is indeed gone. I had   social anxiety as a child, so going across the street after GP to brave the shopkeeper was an adventure.  Yes, a special snowflake with social anxiety. It's a miracle I survived to adulthood.

But to return to the 21st century neighbourhood that is Koreatown North, I very much enjoyed my first excursion there. East Asian bars, restaurants and karaoke joints now line Yonge Street from Finch Avenue to Park Home Avenue and beyond.  My pal and I met in Hashi Izakaya, which appeared to be a Korean-Japanese fusion place. It wasn't busy but eventually it filled up with young Koreans and a couple of  other under-40s who might have been Persian. (There are a gazillion Persian businesses on Yonge Street north of Finch Avenue.) If not for the fact that the waitress had a standard Toronto accent, we might have been in a Korean university town.

Having had dinner already, I ordered a small seaweed salad while my pal had sushi. Her meal came with some unusual sides, like kimchi. Sushi and kimchi? Well, why not. It's Koreatown.

After a serious 90 minute catch-up, we went for a walk in the freezing air to find a bakery or sweet shop. (Had we walked north instead of south we would have eventually reached an excellent Persian patisserie, but it was not to be.) We crossed Yonge Street when we saw a still-open bakery but were disappointed by its lack of tables and chairs. So instead we went into a brightly-lit place that advertised waffles. Unfortunately, the waffles and all the other Korean desserts were outrageously expensive, so we just had cold green tea-fruit juice drinks. They were delicious.

Around us young Koreans ate elaborate suppers and chatted, and I pondered once again the ability of young people to energise their elders just by being around.  I also contrasted the familiarity of the stretch of Yonge Street I have known all my life with the utter novelty of the restauarant.

As all the travel guides say, Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods. Practically this usually means ethnic enclaves, since most people prefer to live with people who eat the same food, speak the same language, have the same values, and even look vaguely the same. Being a Torontonian, though, I suspect it also has a lot to do with what neighbourhoods are affordable when whichever ethnic group begins to arrive in significant numbers.

Or where people were allowed to live. For a good chunk of the 19th century, only members of the Anglican Church were allowed to own property in Toronto, so Scots Presbyterians and other Non-Conformist  types owned parts of what is now North York--and Koreatown North.

After ten years of being an expat, I can finally say that I rather enjoy the fact that my childhood neighbourhood has been largely razed to the ground* and replaced by something else, its people dead or dispersed and replaced by other people. Truth is what is, and there's no time like the present.

That said, I do miss my grandmother.

If I were 20 years younger, and lived south of Finch, I might start learning Korean. If I lived north of Finch, I might start learning Persian. After all, when I was more than 30 years younger, I started learning Italian, then the neighbourhood's (distantly) second language. As it is, the second language of my parents' neighbourhood is Russian, so if I still lived here, I might start learning that. I might try anyway, as it's simpler than Polish. (Yay!)

*Actually, it occurs to me that one of the brilliant things about north-of-Park Home is that the streetscape of shops largely still exists. The shops are Korean or Persian, but they have the same shape they have always had. When those are replaced by condos, as so many shops have been, that will truly be the end of the neighbourhood as I knew it.

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